Elizabeth Vargas Hopes NewsNation Debut Adds New Choice for Evening-News Viewers

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The new New York studio that Nexstar Media Group built for Elizabeth Vargas’ nascent NewsNation program is so big, the anchor believes she could do five cartwheels across if called upon to do so. Starting Monday night, the company begins the process of figuring out if such rigorous calisthenics will be necessary.

TV-news aficionados likely know Vargas from her 15-year stint as a co-anchor on ABC News’ “20/20,” but on Monday night, she will jump right into the fray in the information wars, with a program at 6 p.m. eastern – a time slot that has become more competitive in recent months. At MSNBC, for example, Ari Melber’s “The Beat” has become one of that network’s most-watched programs. Late-afternoon has become more of a cable-news battlefield as viewers who have learned to work from home after the coronavirus pandemic tune in earlier to get a recap of the day’s events.

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Vargas doesn’t think her program, “Elizabeth Vargas Reports,” is likely to win the cable-news wars right out of the chute. Ratings for NewsNation have not been outsized compared to its competitors. But she would like a chance to step on to the field.

“You see this often on cable news right now, with people sort of falling into partisan talking points. It becomes this echo chamber of everyone just repeating the same partisan talking points, whether it’s one on the far left or on one the far right,” Vargas says, just steps from the new New York City studio and control room that Nexstar has put in place for her program’s debut. “We hope to be more thoughtful and to really serve the vast majority of America, which is in the middle –center right or center left – who don’t want to hear shouting heads or have talking points rammed down their throats.”

She hasn’t been swayed by NewsNation’s audience, which so far has been small. When CNN and Fox News Channel launched, Vargas recalls, press reports often denigrated them “as the little watched Fox News and the hardly seen CNN, and those headlines were coming years after their launch. We just launched this month to a full news schedule,” she says. “I think I just need to focus on doing a great show and have faith that the audience will find us.”

Vargas joins anchors including Dan Abrams, Leland Vittert and Chris Cuomo in a lineup that seeks to avoid partisan delivery and focus instead on a news product acceptable to viewers across the nation. Nexstar has flexed its corporate muscles in recent years, acquiring not only dozens of TV stations, but TV’s CW broadcast network and The Hill political-news outlet.

Part of the appeal of the new venture is to lead a show that has been built around her. Some of Vargas’ best-known previous roles were inherited from Barbara Walters and Peter Jennings. “There is something to be said for starting from scratch and that’s not just this show – it’s the entire network,” she says. In the news business, she adds, “this is a very interesting time” as media companies rely more heavily on live news programs to assemble the bigger simultaneous audiences advertisers continue to crave. In just the past 12 months, companies like Warner Bros. Discovery, NBCUniversal and Paramount Global have all unveiled varying strategies to attract consumers with news programming. “Game pieces are moving very fast and shifts are tectonic and have incredible ripple effects down the line,” she says.

Vargas is eager to jump on some of what she believes will be the era’s biggest stories, which may include the run-up to the 2024 U.S. presidential election and the world’s struggles to navigate climate change. But don’t tune in expecting her to give you her thoughts on such issues. “There is a lot of opinion , and and there are people who are really good at it,” she says. “That is not what I do. I’ve built a career on ‘Just the facts, ma’am,’ and I’m going to stick with that.”

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